First of all, I need to apologize to all of you. While I have been busy drinking a lot of hot chocolates, I haven’t been able to write them up and post them recently. I now have a bigger problem sitting in front of me, a few books with notes on the 300+ hot chocolates I haven’t written up in about 10 different countries where I have travelled doing research on the history of hot chocolate for a new book I am working on (more on that later!). So, I need to think of another way to share this all with you without having to write up 300+ new posts.
While I figure that out, and especially given what is happening around the world right now, I thought I’d get back to sharing some of the hot chocolates I have had (if anything to help us visit the world a little through our screens and plan for future trips). I’m starting with one of my favourites, the Mousseaux in Bayonne France.
I visited Bayonne last year while following the trail of chocolate across France (yes a tough job I admit so I won’t rub it in too much but I will strongly encourage you to visit if you have the chance..hopefully soon…). Bayonne is France’s chocolate capital, not because it has the most, or even perhaps the best chocolate but because chocolate has been such an integral part to this town since the 18th century. Chocolate arrived via Spain, where it was already quite popular by that time, and came directly into Bayonne’s busy port. In the 1550, the King of France, Henry II, invited Jewish families from Spain and Portugal that were fleeing the Inquisition to come and settle in France and many chose Bayonne as it was close to the border. These “Portuguese merchants” started making chocolate in town, starting perhaps as early as 1687. I’ll share more about this in future posts but chocolate is such an important part of Bayonne’s history that the tourism office offers a tour just about chocolate (which is excellent).
My first stop was to Cazenave on Rue Pont Neuf, a street lined with chocolate shops and which is the centre of chocolate in Bayonne. This shop/café was opened in 1854 after Genevieve Biraben came back from a visit to Paris. There she was impressed by the chic tea houses and wanted to open something similar in Bayonne. Luckily her husband was a chocolatier (how lucky is she…), so they decided to offer a beautiful chocolate, whisked the traditional way and served, still today, in white porcelain covered in small red roses. They have a beautiful little room in the back with an intricate Art Nouveau stained-glass ceiling (from the 19th century) and mirrors all around. Take a seat at one of the light blue tables covered in fine white lace and look around you at the historic displays of chocolate serving pots.
There are a few different hot chocolates that you can (and should) order here but the most important one is the Mousseux. The chocolate is impressively whisked up by hand using a special wooden stick, the same way that it has been for many years and accompanied by a small pot of rich whipped cream and a generous piece of thickly cut buttered toast. This toast is found nowhere else as it is made exclusively for Cazenave. The locals around me all dipped their toast into the chocolate in between sips. The dark chocolate is whisked to perfection with about 2 inches of chocolate “air” on top and enough in a small pot for a whole second serve. You can also order it “a l’eau” (with water) and flavoured with cannelle (cinnamon) another local favourite.
The chocolate used is made in Bayonne using beans from Peru, Venezuela and Trinidad, and with milk from their farm. As of 2018 all of their products are organic as well. While you are there, make sure you also order a kanougas, a local soft caramel made with chocolate (or hop across the street to Paries which specializes in these little bite sized morsels of heaven!).
Chocolat Cazenave, 19, Rue Pont Neuf, Bayonne, France. Order Le Mousseux is 6.10Euros or as a “Formule” which includes toast.